Monday, May 23, 2011


If you haven't heard of TED - Ideas Worth Spreading, then you should have - - the talks are truly inspiring, like reading a good book and having watched a few, when the chance came to able to go to TEDxEQCHCH I signed up.
Warning Rant to follow:
It was a marvellous, head overflowing with ideas and thoughts, day.
I loved Cameron Sinclair and his on the ground actual experience, in rebuilding after disasters. It was amazing and practical. I also loved him because he said the real work starts later when work is actually done. Having ideas is the easy part - actually doing something about it is the hard part. I couldn't agree more. Anyone who can show eight slides of eight weeks to completely build a new house - is also just most awesome.
I loved Coralie Winn for her wonderful approach to temporarily making newly flattened buildings beautiful. I'm signing up for that mailing list.
I loved Karen Blincoe for her quiet and understated presentation that slapped me full on in the face with what building a sustainable city actually means. I think we need to be careful what words we bandy about and what we really want. Even in the room there seemed to be a hum of agreement when the words sustainable city was put up but I knew - since I did bike, that the majority of people had come in cars to hear these talks and probably not full cars either. Actually doing things, is so much harder than talking about them.
I loved Dan Cullum for bringing renewal back to individual sized portions of offering a few hours a week to community things. Hugh Morrison from Arrow was practical and laid it all out in steps - which was relieving and also eye opening on the scale of what we are facing. If I remember right he had a deadline for July 2012 (a whole year away!) for completion of all demolitions.
So many ideas and that was all before a tasty lunch.
It was exciting and energizing and yet also strangely, deeply frustrating.
Because really what could I do about it?
How much say would I have in the rebuilding of the city?
Most of the buildings are privately owned in the CBD. I can't vote in the person who is head of traffic. I didn't vote in the urban planner dude - though he impressed me with his talk and down-to-earth manner. He already had preliminary findings from the share an idea event last weekend (what people wanted more of and what they wanted to see less of in the CBD), which was pretty cool and speedy work. He does have to work fast though, he has to produce a plan in nine months.
Another thing that annoyed me was - looking around me most people looked a little like me! We were all educated, middle class and probably mostly from the lesser damaged areas of the city or with at least enough in the emotional and financial tank to be able to deal with bad damage. Probably they were preaching to the converted, which is why we all loved it but what can we all do? How many of us owned buildings in the CBD?
Were we a suitable cross section to have heard these fabulous inspiring talks? A recording of Majora Carter talk from TED left me wondering - what voices would miss out on input into the rebuilding of this city?
I could try to listen for them, but would that help if I was listening?
And another thing - in the last eighteen months or so we learnt some very fascinating lessons about what people say and what people actually do. People are happy to share ideas on how they want the central city to look like in the future but unless we all make a commitment to go there and shop there and work there - it will be a dead red zone just like it was heading for even before Sept 4th. I hope there is enough people and companies with guts to go back to the central city and I really, really hope Christchurch has the guts to actually turn up and support them.
Hugh said he can make his plan but it will need people. It is so true. I have watched in recent years just how quickly seemingly committed people will walk away - often with seemingly good reasons. It is really tough, if you are one that says - "No I will not walk away. It will be hard but I will see it through." I can say from experience, there is no thanks for you and often there is only surprise and even ridicule from others.
I really don't want to be disappointed when our city centre reopens. I hope at least the 700 who had the privilege to hear such amazing speakers on Saturday support it and make it better by turning up and not just once but again and again as only then will businesses remain viable there. Only then will we have a beating heart of the city again.
Though perhaps, if they really were all a little like me - they will.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Echoes of the Day

We are getting well into the swing of our new post quake lives here but then something catches you out.
I was driving through Sydenham the other day, because it was the quickest way to get to where I needed to go. I hadn't been down that part of Colombo Street for some time. I have shopped on and off in Sydenham over the past thirteen years so I had a good handle on what it used to look like. It was not somewhere I thought of as pretty. In many places it was quite run down and a little icky - it needed a bit of a decluttering and a clean up.
Now when you drive up Colombo Street between Brougham and Moorhouse - much is gone. It is about four blocks and each block on one side of the road or the other, the majority of the block is just empty space - nothing there at all. I crossed the intersection of Sandyford and Byron Streets and three of the four corners were blank, demolished spaces. I nearly cried. I was surprised at my reaction but it just seemed so sad that history and little businesses had been totally erased.
On Tuesday this week at 12:40 ish there was a sizable aftershock south west of the city. I didn't feel it at all as I was in the car. It was quite close to Lucy's temporary new school location. It was a Tuesday again and at a similar time of day - lunchtime and to her, it started in just the same way as the big one on February 22nd. She cried. I didn't realise any of this until I went to pick her up after school. She was fine by then but it was the first thing she told me about. How she had made herself into a turtle and covered her head and listened to the shelves with rocks and shells rattling in the cabinet beside her. That is the weird thing with these aftershocks they are so psychological. For me it was as if nothing had happened that day but for her she was back with some of those scary feelings from February.
I can easily tell people our story of February 22nd and what happened but I don't revisit the feelings and emotions. Sometimes I see them as if through a door crack and I don't want to get any closer to them - they are something of the past and even now almost beyond my comprehension.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It must be over by now!

I came back from Wellington last weekend thinking, new term, back to less earthquake stuff - more future planning stuff.
I was woken that night at some time, I don't even recall, by another aftershock. The ground seems determined for us not forget its power and how little we are really in control. On the Friday of that week I was sitting next to a lady who is currently living in a motel - it is very far from over.
I remember when we were kids, there were days when the sun shone under the nor'west arch, lighting everything in a soft yellow like one of those old paintings in the art gallery. The nor'west would die down and all would be still. "Earthquake weather we used to say." I don't why we thought that. Earthquakes don't care for weather, they happen in brilliant sunshine, in the night, in the rain - anytime they fancy. I was thinking on Tuesday night as I was lying in bed, about how to describe the last week of aftershocks. It is hard to remember because they do merge into together. So there was one big enough to wake me on the Sunday night. I think we had a couple of days of no aftershocks that I felt and then there was a largish one that I didn't feel as we were in the car but when we arrived at school everyone was talking about it. I think there were a couple more littlies over the next few days. Saturday afternoon we had a sizable jolt. Monday there was another that had me doing the meerkat impression - stopping raising my head and looking about to see if things would worsen. Then of course in the early hours of Wednesday we had another large rattle. It woke three out of the four in our house. 3am shakes are bastards because it is so hard to get back to sleep and before you know it, the alarm is going off. It was one those aftershocks that made the whole house rock for quite awhile at the end of the major jolt, like it was rocking itself back to stock-still or we were on a boat crossing the ferry wake in the Marlborough Sounds. Then my brain stopped and thought hang on! This was the ground, it was not supposed to gently rock to a stop!
The next two days everyone was tired. Imagine a whole city tired from broken sleep on top of months of dealing with change, (the new positive word that is being used for the situation we find ourselves in), traffic is not pretty, nor that safe a place, to be at the moment. At least we are all in it together.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm a Christchurch Freak

So it turns out being in the middle of large natural disaster changes you.
In the last week, we've had some non Cantabrians stay with us and Lucy and I stayed outside the region with people who hadn't been through two major quakes.
It showed me just how much I have changed.
In Christchurch I am so aware of any shakes and rattles - teeny aftershocks are heard by my well tuned ears that pass by non Cantabrians unnoticed. Larger aftershocks are just shakes to non Cantabrians. There is no fear it might get bigger. My body reacts without me telling it anything. What is happening in this shake? Is it easing? Is it increasing? I don't seem to have much control over the reaction. Outwardly I may not move. but inwardly a little dialogue starts up. I am ready for whatever comes next.
In Christchurch, get together with anyone, even strangers and the talk is dominated with quake related stories. It is something we all have in common and at least it is more interesting than the weather to talk about. Outside Christchurch, if you are the lone Cantabrian, you don't talk about earthquakes at all, there is just no need.
Twice I also found myself sitting near a stranger. I felt I really needed to talk to them find out their name and where they were from. I wondered why - I don't normally talk to strangers. On the flight home beside me was a stranger. She started talking - "are you going home? How is your house?" Her home was also Christchurch. We chatted and shared enough information that should anything happen we could support each other. In Christchurch it seems it is still important to know those around you. You may need to help each other. I am sure this will wear off but it is actually nice living in a community that is acting like a community and looking out for each other - whether a stranger or not.
I enjoyed looking up at building facades and just admiring them, now knowing things can disappear so fast. I have also noticed I am finally thinking less about the future, enjoying today - this moment is enough. I have seen how everything can change in a few seconds. On Saturday night I was watching people dancing and enjoying themselves I didn't think what would happen next. I just enjoyed the moment and felt happy that others were happy and having fun. What happened after the dancing stopped didn't matter. I seem to have a new appreciation for other people's enjoyment. I don't even have to be happy but I can still enjoy others having a good time. It is hard to explain but I guess it is that community feeling kicking in, it is less about me now and more about everyone and how we can all get through life together. I am sure these feelings will change over time but it is nice to notice them now.
Driving on the edges of the shut off red zone, I saw the Hotel Grand Chancellor from another angle and realised just how much the building is not standing up straight. It is scary, that a building that big can lean like that but also impressive that it can and not fall down. It is also odd how once buildings are completely demolished and the land cleared, it is like they never existed. An empty space means nothing to those outside the city but to those familiar with what used to be, it is going to take some adjusting. It has not all gone either. The more we see, the more we notice what has survived instead of what is gone. It is the same with me, I am starting to notice the new person that has come through this.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.